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Tobias Rieder’s injury and its impact to the Oilers penalty kill

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Edmonton Oilers Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Some bad news for the Edmonton Oilers as the club announced that they will be without the services of Tobias Rieder for one month. The winger suffered an upper-body injury in Tuesday night’s win against Montreal.

In 18 games this season, Rieder has played predominantly on the second line alongside Leon Draisaitl, registering seven assists. Five of those assists have come at even-strength (5v5), giving him a points per hour rate of 1.53 - ranking him seventh on the team among forwards.

While his offensive output hasn’t been great, it’s his versatility on the roster that will be missed the most.

”It’s a blow that hurts us in a number of different areas. He became a very trustworthy player for us. A very solid defensive player, one that you could put out in any situation. Up front, he was creating well while maintaining that responsible aspect of the game.” - Todd McLellan (Source: Edmonton Oilers)

Rieder has been deployed as part of the second powerplay (5v4) unit this season, as well as the penalty kill (4v5) where he ranks just behind second on the team in the number of minutes played shorthanded (28:24) and the average number of minutes played per game (1:34).

Considering how poor the special teams were last season, and how it impacted their final results, it’s critical to assess what Rieder’s absence will mean to the team as they try to remain competitive.

Before diving into Rieder’s on-ice numbers, it’s important to have some context around how the team as a whole has been doing on the penalty kill so far this season.

Edmonton Oilers (4v5) 2018/19
Games 18
TOI 92:22 (21st)
Goals against 13 (21st)
Goals against per hour (GA/60) 8.44 (24th)
Unblocked shot attempts against per hour (FA/60) 62.35 (6th)
Shots against per hour (SA/60) 45.46 (9th)
Team save percentage (SV%) 81.43 (27th)

The club currently ranks 24th in the league when it comes to the rate of goals against per hour, which is unfortunate considering they’ve been quite good at limiting the amount of shots getting through and towards the goal. While the goaltending has been fine at even-strength this season (14th in the league), it hasn’t been as sharp on the penalty kill - an issue that’s carried over from last season when their team save percentage ranked 30th in the league.

The Oilers ability to limit unblocked shot attempts against this season has been driven by the two most regularly deployed forward combinations: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with Tobias Rieder, who have played about twelve and a half minutes together, and Ryan Strome with Jujhar Khaira, who have played just over sixteen minutes together. What’s most impressive about these two forward combinations is that each tandem has been on the ice for only one goal against so far this season.

Edmonton Oilers (4v5) RNH-Rieder Strome-Khaira
TOI 12.58 16.27
Goals against 1 1
Goals against per hour (GA/60) 4.77 3.69
Unblocked shot attempts against per hour (FA/60) 61.99 59.02
Shots against per hour (SA/60) 47.68 33.20
Team save percentage (SV%) 90.00 88.89

With Rieder out of the line-up for a month, or roughly 15 games, it’ll be interesting to see how the coaching staff adjusts the penalty kill units to continue their success at limiting shots and hopefully goals. They’ll be dealing with small sample sizes, so it’s difficult to predict what will happen with confidence. But we’ll see what type and level of information the Oilers coaching staff is willing to make decisions upon.

In my mind, the team should have Strome continue to play with Khaira since the results have been so positive. There might be some temptation to have Strome play with Nugent-Hopkins since he’s been RNH’s second most common partner on the penalty kill this season (just under four minutes together) and the rate of shots have been low. I think it’d be wiser to rely on the larger sample size Strome has with Khaira this season, and you can even base it on the positive results they’ve had in the past as linemates at even-strength.

The question really should be around Nugent-Hopkins and which forward to deploy alongside him. To get a list of the potential candidates, I’ve listed all of the forwards who have played at least five minutes on the penalty kill this season.

Player GP TOI FA/60 SA/60 GA GA/60 SV%
Ryan Strome 18 30.57 60.85 43.18 3 5.89 86.36
Nugent-Hopkins 18 28.53 56.78 37.85 1 2.10 94.44
Tobias Rieder 18 28.40 67.61 54.93 4 8.45 84.62
Kyle Brodziak 17 23.20 56.90 43.97 5 12.93 70.59
Jujhar Khaira 16 22.80 55.26 36.84 2 5.26 85.71
Zack Kassian 15 16.80 57.14 42.86 5 17.86 58.33
Leon Draisaitl 18 13.17 68.35 50.13 0 0.00 100.00
Connor McDavid 18 8.15 66.26 51.53 3 22.09 57.14
Kailer Yamamoto 12 6.80 97.06 52.94 1 8.82 83.33
Drake Caggiula 14 5.33 67.50 67.50 2 22.50 66.67

Should be noted that four of the team’s goals against on the penalty kill have occurred when Brodziak and Kassian have been on the ice together. Caggiula has been dreadful shorthanded in limited minutes, as he’s been on the ice for two goals against, once with Strome and once with Khaira. Brodziak was on the ice for a goal against with Rieder, and Kassian was on the ice for a goal against playing with Strome. And Rieder was also on the ice for two goals against playing alongside McDavid. Meanwhile, Nugent-Hopkins is playing all those minutes and has been on the ice for only one goal.

So what should the team do?

My initial thought was that the coaching staff should just bump up Draisaitlt’s ice time on the penalty kill as he’s played 13 minutes this season, mostly with Rieder, and just over three minutes with Nugent-Hopkins. His on-ice numbers have been good - no goals against and a low rate of shots and chances against - and he’s young enough to handle the extra workload. But the problem is that he’s already getting a ton of minutes on the powerplay, and the team is already giving a heavy workload to a talented top six forward in Nugent-Hopkins. I don’t think it’d be wise to have two of your skilled guys getting overworked and in turn impacting the team’s even-strength line combinations and overall productivity.

Instead, I think the Oilers really need to have one of the bottom six, depth players fill the void left by Rieder. And the ideal candidate would be Brodziak. His on ice rate of goals against has been poor on the penalty kill, but I think that has more to do with the goaltending. The Oilers’ team save percentage has been one of the league’s worst this season, and it drops down even further to 70.59% when Brodziak has been on the ice. What the Oilers coaching staff should be looking at is the team’s low rate of unblocked shots against when Brodziak has been on the ice and how it ranks third best on the team behind only Khaira and Nugent-Hopkins.

With Rieder unavailable for a month, it’ll be important for the team to not only address his spot in the top six at even-strength, but also his spot on a special teams unit which could make or break this season.

Data: Natural Stat Trick